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Research Profile

Prof Karen Henwood  

  • Funded Research Projects

    • “Homing in: Sensing, sense-making and sustainable place-making” (an arts & social sciences collaborative network)  2013-2014
    • (Professor Karen Henwood (School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University); with  Dr Carl Lavery (Theatre Studies, Aberystwyth University); Dr Ria Dunkley (Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University) and Dr Chris Groves (School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University); AHRC funded  - connected communities programme (communities, cultures, environments and sustainability).
    • The major societal problems of our time require more interconnected, collaborative efforts to creatively and imaginatively address the risks, instabilities, uncertainties and rapid pace of change in human-ecological relationships. Climate scientists continue to warn of the effects of dangerous climate change. Social scientists and policy makers seek alternative strategies capable of promoting better science-public communications, greater community resilience and social sustainability. Increasingly artists are concerned to relinquish notions of aesthetic autonomy and instead seek to use the imaginative and affective potentiality of artworks to promote the quest for different ecological and environmental futures.
    • The purpose of this collaborative cross disciplinary network, combining the arts and humanities with the social sciences, is to develop creative and imaginative research strategies and methods for studying experiences of environmental risks in the C21 and the transformative changes that are needed to respond to them. Its substantive focus will be on processes of homing: i.e. spatially and temporally dynamic ways of “being at home”. We wish to investigate the possible role of homing in promoting the kinds of narratives of care, attachment and security that provide people and communities with a sense of ecological knowing, along with the kinds of action-enabling connections people can make linking place and identity together at different spatial and temporal scales. We believe that this will provide insightful strategies opening out ways of thinking about sustainability practice and sustainable place-making.
    • For scholars and artists, processes of homing often involve a reconfiguration of the boundaries between the body and the sensory world: considerable importance is thus given to the embodied, imaginative attention people pay in their everyday lives to their surroundings – to the place they are in.  A similar focus is found in interpretative traditions of qualitative social science with its long track record of producing understandings of everyday life that emerge out of in vivo investigations of empirical sensory perceptions and the textured ways in which people make meaning in everyday life when it is viewed close up. However, whereas the arts (in particular theatre and performance) place greatest emphasis on the body (sensing), interpretive social science produces recognisable knowledge of the practical ways in which people establish meaningful, affective connections in situated encounters and their embedding within local cultures, communities and wider social relationships (sense-making). We need to know more about how everyday affective processes that matter are capable of crossing over established space-time boundaries.
    • Our arts-social science network will bring our different disciplinary approaches together in new ways to investigate processes of homing and feature creative research strategies and methods for inquiring into sensing and sense-making. We will focus on the understanding this affords for ecological thinking as it spans across different times and places. We will do this both by working together to critically appreciate one another’s work and engage in partnership working with local artists, policy and other stakeholder communities (including the creative arts industry) over the course of one year. During this time we will participate in collaborative activities and events. We will also schedule a series of presentations by environmental thinkers and artists about their work at the Cardiff Philosophy Café (to include show and tell events to demonstrate arts performances). Towards the end of our period of funding we will conduct an inclusive conference in World Café style and produce an accessible report for distribution to our non HE partners. We will disseminate outcomes of our collaborative working through talks, briefings and visits to our partner organisations. 


    • Energy Biographies Logo
    • “Energy Biographies: Understanding the Dynamics of Energy Use for Energy Demand Reduction”  2011-2014 
    • (led by Professor Karen Henwood, with Professor Nick Pidgeon, Dr Catherine Butler, Dr Karen Parkhill and Dr Fiona Shirani, Cardiff University) ESRC/EPSRC Energy and Communities Joint Venture
    • Concerns regarding climate change and the security of energy supplies mean that the transition to a secure, affordable and low carbon energy system has become a key objective of UK energy policy.  It is now widely accepted that to achieve this aim we need to focus not only on low carbon forms of energy production (e.g. through renewable technologies), but also innovative ways to reduce our consumption of energy - whether in the home, workplace or transportation. More


    • Cardiff Based Empirical Project: Masculinities, Identities and Risk: Transition in the lives of men and fathers
    • This project will draw on and extend a previous study exploring the ways in which men narrate, and account for, their experiences of becoming a father for the first time, and any transformations it brings to their relationships and lives (Henwood and Procter, 2003). Based on three waves of interviews (conducted before and after the birth), the project has generated a carefully crafted, qualitative longitudinal data set focused intensively around some critical turning points in men’s life histories (pregnancy, birth, changes to daily routines) and how they interpret or make meaning of a significant biographical change. Use of diverse cultural representations of men and fathers as prompts within the interviews provides a valuable historical contextualization of the biographical data. The project will conduct a substantively and methodologically innovative meta- and re-analysis of waves 1-3 of the men’s transition to fatherhood data. This will enable a more finely grained understanding of temporalities in the experiences of fathers over a time of intensive change in their lives. The empirical re-study will provide a unique opportunity for a long term follow up of the sample, whose lives may have changed significantly since they were last interviewed nearly a decade ago, and for comparative investigations into two geographically, socially and culturally diverse cohorts of first time fathers. The project will be geared towards extending (‘scaling-up’) the reach, relevance and impact of studies of men’s sense-making and life transition within a range of academic/educational, policy and practice arenas, such as psycho-social, gender and life course studies; parenting education; gender, welfare and citizenship; counseling and mental health.
    • Indicative Research Questions:
    • How do men interpret the changes in their relationships and identities as they enter parenthood, and how do they understand and negotiate masculinities, fatherhood and risk across biographical time?
    • How effective is the strategy of using cultural images to historically conceptualise biographical data?
    • What is the utility of a research design combining intensive and extensive tracking of individuals across different stages of life?
    • How can a virtual network of academic users be used to develop data analysis, interpret stakeholder involvement, and establish the reach, relevance and impact of findings?


    • "Changing Lives and Times: A Qualitative Longitudinal Network" 2007-2012 
    • Coordinator Dr Bren Neale, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds"; Economic and Social Research Council
    • Changing Lives and Times: Relationships and Identities through the Life course (shorthand title: 'Timescapes') is a large scale, qualitative longitudinal study, set in the UK, that follows people over time to explore the ways in which their personal relationships and identities unfold over the life course. The study will investigate how fundamentally important relationships with significant others - parents, siblings, wider family, children, partners, friends and lovers — are implicated in the way individuals define themselves, and impact upon their life chances and life decisions. It will also seek to understand the significance of time in people's lives by focussing upon three 'timescapes' : biographical time, seen as an individual life that flows through the life span from birth to death; generational time, which links people in particular emotional and practical ways with their own generation and those of their parents and children over the course of their lives; and historical time, the way people locate themselves in different epochs and in relation to different external events, circumstances and environments, both locally and globally. Seven empirical projects will collectively span the life course, documenting the personal lives and relationships of children and young people, adults in midlife, and those in later life. The projects are located in diverse geographical and cultural settings throughout England, Wales and Scotland.
    • The set of empirical projects will feed into three central strands of work. In strand one, the data will be drawn together to create a rich working archive on personal lives and relationships at the turn of the Millennium. Strand 2 will foster and showcase the re-use of the data set, within and beyond the academic community, through a range of activities, including studentships and mobile workshops. In Strand 3 we will organise knowledge sharing activities and events at local, national and international levels (regular workshops and conferences, interactive website, advisory groups and networks, publications) through which we will report on the findings of the study, highlight its relevance for policy and practice, and advance knowledge and understanding of the methods of qualitative longitudinal research.


    • "Socio-technical risk, decisions and values: A narrative approach" 2003-2008 
    • (with Prof. Nick Pidgeon & Peter Simmons, Environmental Sciences, UEA); Economic and Social Research Council (Risk in Social Contexts Priority Network)
    • This project emerged out of a desire to develop innovative methodological and conceptual approaches to understanding experiences of environmental risk in everyday lives. A current challenge in risk research is to develop methods to understand and represent the complex production of values, by publics and stakeholders, in the process of working through decisions around living with and managing risk. Taking a narrative approach, the project is exploring values through the stories that people tell about living with risk. In the context of this project, environment is taken to include 'the vulnerable world of everyday life', thus expanding the definition to include the home and the workplace. The project focuses upon two contrasting case studies of communities living with sources of significant socio-technical risk to their environments. One involves a nuclear power station and the other a transport-related source of risk, both issues that are the subject of intense policy interest and debate.


    • "Gender theories and risk perception: A secondary analysis" 2006-7 
    • (with Prof. Nick Pidgeon UEA and Prof. Alan Urwin, University of Liverpool); Economic and Social Research Council (Science in Society Programme)
    • A longstanding quantitative finding common to many surveys of public risk perceptions is that women respondents typically report higher levels of concern about environmental and technological hazards compared to men. Although recent research now indicates that this empirical relationship may be more complex than first thought, the current literature fails to offer adequate explanations for the observed relationships between gender and risk perceptions. The research addresses this deficit of theory through a multi-level investigation and critical synthesis of the ways in which contemporary gender theory, drawn from social psychology and science and technology studies in particular, might account for the observed empirical findings on gender and risk. Methods used are a desk study and a secondary qualitative analysis of existing focus group data sets (total = 28 groups) of women and men talking about risk, technology and science. Based upon its resulting theoretical synthesis, the project will point to new directions for science communication and engagement policy.